Tennessee biologists have now confirmed cases of a rare fungal disease that has killed rattlesnakes in other parts of the country. The fungus appears in the form of lesions that can interfere with vision and lead to a deformed face that makes it difficult for them to feed.
The Chicago Sun-Times has a gallery of photos showing what the infected snakes can look like. The paper reported on the fungal disease last year.
Ed Carter, head of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, says there’s no love lost for snakes, particularly poisonous ones. But he says they play a big part in the ecosystem.
“Like any other species, they have their place and their niche of what they do. They’re very good at controlling a lot of rodents and rodent populations. Without that, you’d expect those populations to go up and the obvious problems that go with that.”
Infected snakes have been located in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Illinois has seen multiple fatalities over the last several years in a threatened snake species – the eastern massasuaga. While the total number of deaths is small, so is the total snake population in northern states like Illinois.
“Even a few individuals can be significant,” TWRA biologist Brian Flock writes in an email.
One of the leading researchers on the topic is wildlife veterinary Matthew Allender, who says the fungus that’s being discovered is often found on captive reptiles like bearded dragons. He told the University of Illinois News Bureau that finding infections in the wild is significant.
“Wildlife diseases and human health are not that different, and often wildlife are our window into a weakened environment that leads to disease in both people and animals.”
So far in Tennessee, biologists have pinpointed two cases in timber rattlesnakes. At least one of them is known to still be alive because it’s wearing a radio transmitter tag.
TWRA officials discourage people from trying to catch a deformed snake. But if found dead, they’d like to see it.
Are you concerned about the possibility of snakes dying off? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Katie Darby contributed to this report.